Thursday, May 22, 2008
Presidents as People
DISCLAIMER: The original illustration accompanying this post was a photo of Air Force One in flight. I replaced that photo with an image of the book jacket, but Bing still directs folks here to see the plane. Sorry... but you could stay and read...
Another good book jumped into my hands a while back. Air Force One, by Kenneth Walsh, gives recollections and impressions of every president who has relied on air travel during his term of office. (Should that read "every sitting president?") The book gives fascinating glimpses behind the formal facades of protocol and politics.
Among those men whose presidencies I personally recall, a few insights were significant to me. Gerald Ford, Everyman, wanted each of the stewards to serve him in turn so that he could get to know each of them better. Ronald Reagan maintained high standards of personal appearance, donning casual workout clothes in flight so that his suits wouldn't wrinkle. Bill Clinton was a night owl and loved to have an audience.
A few years ago, my family and I toured a retired presidential aircraft at the Boeing Museum of Flight. One of the anecdotes told by a docent stuck with me. Lyndon Johnson enjoyed every bit of control he could garner, and used a height-adjustable desk to his advantage. (Imagine sitting at the children's table while the President of the United States towers over you in his elevated chair!) He also liked to set the cabin's thermostat so that others might not get too comfortable. (The crew eventually disconnected the wiring so he only thought he was controlling it.)
Air Force One is a venue both private and public. The impressive plane has often been used as a stunning backdrop for photographs. When airborn, security measures were more relaxed than anywhere else the president could visit. Conversations flowed, meals were served, movies watched, and some social conventions could be dropped. This book is a wonderful introduction to the men who have held the most amazing position of power in the world.